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Louisiana Republicans score big legislative wins

Louisiana voters took a significant step to the right on Saturday, as Republicans notched wins up and down the ballot, giving their party an outside chance of sweeping to power just ahead of a crucial redistricting cycle that could cement their control of the state for years to come.

 

Amid record turnout for what is usually a sleepy off-year, irregular election, Louisiana Republicans locked up enough seats in the state Senate to amount to a super majority. The party came within seven seats of winning a super majority in the state House, too, with eight runoff elections to come in November.

 

Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) easily led the field of candidates running for the state's top office, but he did not win a majority of the vote, which would have allowed him to avoid the Nov. 16 runoff.

 

Instead, his two leading opponents - businessman Eddie Rispone (R) and Rep. Ralph Abraham (R) - captured a combined 52 percent of the vote. That gives Rispone, who finished about 4 percentage points ahead of Abraham, a path to win the runoff.

 

"You can turn this state around with the right team and the right attitude, and you can shake up this state and make it great again," Rispone said Saturday at his victory party.

 

Edwards's campaign on Monday released an internal survey, conducted before Saturday's all-party primary, showing the governor leading Rispone 52 percent to 36 percent. But most, if not all, Abraham voters are likely to coalesce around Rispone.

 

"While Governor Edwards has a strong, bipartisan record to advertise to voters over the next five weeks, Eddie Rispone is as phony as they get. While he's trying to sell himself as an outsider now, the truth is, Eddie Rispone's the ultimate insider," Edwards's campaign manager Richard Carbo wrote in a post-election memo.

 

Edwards will not have the benefit of facing a Republican opponent hindered by internal party divisions, like he did in 2015. That year, the two Republicans who finished behind then-Sen. David Vitter (R) declined to endorse him.

 

On Saturday, despite an at-times bitter primary fight, Abraham endorsed his former rival. 

 

The Republican gains in the first round, and their potential to pick up the supermajority in the House, could be a serious setback to Democratic efforts to draw more favorable legislative and congressional maps after the 2020 census.

 

If Republicans hold such substantial control over the legislature, they would be able to draw maps and override any vetoes Edwards would make - assuming he holds onto his job.

 

"Today was a great day for Republicans all the way down the ballot," Andrew Bautsch, the executive director of the Louisiana Republican Party, said in a statement late Saturday. "Louisiana voters just elected the most Republican legislature in the state's history."

 

Also on the ballot on Saturday, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser (R) and Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) easily won reelection. Republicans won the treasurer's office, and two Republicans will face each other in a runoff for insurance commissioner. Republican candidates led the initial round of balloting in races for agriculture commissioner and secretary of state, too.

 

John Couvillon, a Louisiana-based pollster who surveyed the field extensively, said Republican gains came in districts that had long voted for Democratic legislators, even as they became more culturally conservative - so-called ancestrally Democratic regions in rural areas north and west of Lafayette.

 

"These parishes had never before given Republicans legislative candidates serious consideration," Couvillon wrote, even though President Trump won all three with more than 60 percent of the vote in 2016.

 

The results suggest voters are wildly enthusiastic about casting their ballots, ahead of a presidential contest that is likely to produce the highest turnout in more than a century. More than 1.3 million voters cast their ballots on or ahead of Saturday's election, 200,000 more than the number of voters who cast a ballot in the 2015 primary.

 

Edwards grabbed about 91 percent of the African American vote, according to Couvillon's estimates, a solid and necessary performance for any Democrat who hopes to win statewide office in a conservative Southern state.

 

But worryingly for the Democratic incumbent, African Americans made up a smaller percentage of the overall electorate than they have in past elections.

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